Teresa Frohock, ‘Miserere’

Miserere is a strange one. The premise is interesting: in addition to Heaven, Hell and Earth, Frohock’s universe also a fictional dimension called Woerld, which acts as a sort of barrier between Hell and Earth. In Woerld, all of Earth’s established religions work together in harmony to prevent the rise of the Fallen, and Templar-esque holy warriors known as Katharoi help in the ongoing fight against evil.

Miserere by Teresa Frohock (cover image)Woerld exists outside of space and time: Miserere is set on Woerld in the year 5873, when a portal opens up and Lindsay,(a girl from present-day America) is dragged through into Woerld. In fact, this is how many of the Katharoi are brought into being: worthy individuals, always children, are chosen to make the one-way trip to Woerld to become Katharoi, leaving their own lives behind forever.

Lindsay is to be the ‘Foundling’ (Padawan) of Lucian, one of the main protagonists, and a large part of Miserere is centred around their relationship. Interestingly, rather than write the story from Lindsay’s point of view in the manner of so many other ‘fish out of water’ or ‘farmboy’ tales, Frohock more or less chooses to maintain the adult PoVs throughout. I think this was the right decision, as it still gives opportunity for explaining the world to someone who is unfamiliar, but it’s less patronising since we’re sharing the PoV of the person who knows rather than the person who is ignorant. A lot of the things Lindsay is forced to witness and experience are fairly dark and unpleasant, and as such the chapters from the child’s PoV can be a little jarring and uncomfortable – which is most likely the author’s intended effect.

The novel features some pretty heavy genre bending, and as such it’s a bit disorienting at first – especially when the author casually tosses around references to the world we live in (such as the way mobile phones can be used on Woerld for a short time before being corrupted by demons and used as Hell portals). Miserere combines elements of urban and traditional fantasy, as well as SF; the presence of holy warriors and Inquisitors give it the feel of historical fiction, while the setting implies that it’s actually a dystopian novel; and the sheer amount of religious imagery (not to mention to plot and the setting) give it a distinctly biblical feel.

I’m in no way religious, and so I imagine there’s a huge amount of religious nuance that was completely lost on me. I’m also unsure of how much of the imagery in the story is taken from the bible and how much has sprung from the author’s imagination, but whichever it is, the vivid imagery is one of the novel’s strongest points. The Sacra Rosa, a rose bush that circles an entire city and wreaks Triffid-style destruction on the Fallen, was one of my favourite images. I also particularly enjoyed the brief flashes we’re given of the Hellscape, and the Simulacrum is also a pretty creepy image. The author skilfully draws on religions and legends from all over the world and brings them all together, and I recognised enough for it to give the book a sense of real authenticity.

One thing that did disappoint me was the ending, which was far less climactic than I expected. A large proportion of the book felt like it was setting up the ‘good vs evil’ battle implied in the blurb: but there are long sections where not much actually happens, and the payoff for going through this wasn’t all that that rewarding. I did get the sense (I hope) that there will be another book about Catarina’s retribution, so perhaps that will have the epic conclusion I was expecting from this one.

Regardless of the book’s flat moments and slightly weak ending, the characters were strong enough to keep me interested throughout. Rachael in particular is an awesome character: she is a holy warrior and a Judge who was abandoned in Hell by the man she loved, and returned possessed by a Wyrm. She’s a strong, believable character who has her own important role in the story, rather than just functioning as the ‘main’ character’s love interest.

Although the blurb of Miserere makes it sound like a love story in a fantasy setting, it’s far from conventional. I was very unsure when I first began to read it – and it probably didn’t help that I read it in fits and starts over the course of a week – but it grew on me a lot, and once I reached the end I was very keen to read more by this author.

This review originally appeared on halfstrungharp.com on 9th September 2014.

Jeff Salyards, ‘Chains of the Heretic’ (review)

Chains of the Heretic is the spectacular denouement to a spectacular (-ly underrated) series, each instalment of which is more thoughtful, more entertaining and more accomplished than the last. Salyards really hit his stride in the second half of the trilogy, and the momentum he’s built so far – carefully rolled into motion in Scourge of the Betrayer, then gaining traction in Veil of the Deserters – hurtles right through into book three like an unlikely boulder in a Tomb Raider game.

Just like Veil, Chains picks up right where the previous book left off. The end is in sight for our endearing protagonist Arki, but he still has a long way to go before he completes his journey from insular local scribe to inured military chronicler. The road he travels is rougher and more dangerous than ever before, but so is Arki. His own resilience, as well as the company he’s kept, have shaped him into a slightly older, wiser and stronger version of himself; and there’s no question that the Arki in this book is somehow more than the Arki we met back in book one.

Earlier in the trilogy Arki was pathetically grateful when the Syldoon first began to (grudgingly) toss scraps of knowledge and kindness in his direction – as though Arki were a barely-tolerated mongrel and their non-abusive words, bones. These scant personal victories provided rare clues that helped us first begin to unravel the layers of posturing, and so we the reader were just as grateful as Arki for these little titbits of information.

And then time passes, group dynamics change, and sympathetic gestures and enlightening conversations start to become more frequent (though still far from the norm). This inevitable yet somehow surprising development takes place whilst Arki himself – partly due to his sheer persistence in the Sisyphean struggle to win over his new employers – surpasses the Syldoons’ (admittedly low) expectations, earning himself a healthy measure of respect along the way.

It’s impossible to identify exactly when Arki makes this transformation – from hindrance to help, from awkward servant to inept-but-determined ally – because the process is so gradual and subtle. But there’s no doubting that some of the hardest bastards in the Syldoon empire now look upon little Arki as a friend and confidante, and others, as more than a friend (wink, wink). It’s incredibly satisfying to see Arki grow in confidence; to watch as he earns the right not only to question men who he once feared but also to boldly banter with the best of them. Arki is no longer someone we feel sorry for, but someone who we admire; no longer a cowering dog but a steadfast jackal.

Cover Image: Jeff Salyards, 'Chains of the Heretic'
Sometime during Veil of the Deserters Arki crossed an intangible line, after which the Syldoon ceased to be “them” and instead became “us”. But there’s far more to it than simply becoming ‘one of the lads’. With familiarity comes the weight of responsibility; and Arki’s tacit acceptance into the company brings moral crisis and a nagging sense of culpability for the Syldoons’ violent actions. On the other hand, as Arki adapts to his surroundings, so too are the other characters subtly transformed through their interactions with the curious and well-meaning scribe. It’s true that these tough-as-nails soldiers are nearly as reluctant to volunteer information about themselves as they would be to stick their arm inside a ripper’s cage; but Salyards gives the impression that they wouldn’t be sharing their secrets at all if it had been anyone except Arki who’d asked for them.

Even so, the Syldoon aren’t exactly brimming with revelations. This is partly because they’re well-rounded and realistic secondary characters as opposed to bog-standard RPG-type henchmen. Salyards doesn’t bombard us with endless side quests, and refrains from trying to shoehorn Arki’s companions’ tales into the story. Instead, each subplot branches off from the main events of the Arc to flourish or to die elsewhere, or else lie unresolved beneath the surface of future conversations. By not involving Arki in these subplots any more deeply than he absolutely needs to be, Salyards creates the illusion that every character’s life is just as independent and complex as anyone else’s, both on and off the page – yet another detail that adds another layer to this series’ foundation of realism and depth.

Prospective readers of Bloodsounder’s Arc should be aware that, thanks to the ‘real time’ first person narrative, they’ll quite literally spend every moment with this same close-knit group of characters, and I’ll not deny that there are times when the campsite conversations start to feel a little too familiar, the drawn-out explanations of history and lore somewhat repetitive, and the company’s road banter ever-so-slightly predictable. But such things can be easily overlooked as long as the characters are compelling, and dark fantasy rarely spits out any who are more compelling than Salyards’ Syldoon. Coarse but clever, dangerous yet loyal, they thunder into being and charge off the page. After which they grab you by the throat. Then use their free hand to punch you in the balls.

Small wonder Arki’s changed after spending months surrounded by abrasive and foul-mouthed companions (whose crude banter is a continual source of amusement – and sometimes violence!). But beneath the jokes there lies a surprisingly strong undercurrent of pathos poignantly reminiscent of that which accompanied the closing moments of Scourge of the Betrayer. The author manipulates mood using means both subtle and understated, just as he does with a great many other aspects of Bloodsounder’s Arc. For example, Salyards creates unique settings, awe-inspiring mythologies and a plot that is stunningly epic and original, and essentially uses them as tools with which to hone and develop his protagonists. This clever inversion of form – using events that, as they escalate, work to enhance rather than dilute the focus on humanity – ensures two things: that Arki and the other characters remain front and centre at all times; and that the story retains the intimacy and immediacy that has set this entire trilogy apart from the very beginning.

I’ve said before (many times) that this surprisingly subtle, occasionally meandering series also happens to boast some of the most brutal, tense and realistic combat scenes I’ve ever read – and Chains of the Heretic is no exception. Blow-by-blow descriptions, fallible weapons, dodgy armour, long-term injuries and unlucky timing. I raved about the exquisiteness of Salyards’ fight scenes when I reviewed both Scourge of the Betrayer and Veil of the Deserters, and don’t wish to bore anyone with repetition. Suffice it to say that Chains takes everything – everything – to the next level with its larger-than-life anti-heroes, settings both bizarre and beautiful, and an increasingly brutal body count.

Essentially, the entire Bloodsounder’s Arc is one huge book that just happens to be split into three parts. Neither part makes sense without the others, nor is the story – or the experience – complete until you’ve read all three books. You might be thinking, ‘well, obviously – it’s a trilogy, numbnuts.’ And you’d be right. But what I mean is that, at its heart, Arki’s journey – as a writer and as an individual – is also Salyards’ journey. Every novel that has ever existed is a labour of love, time and dedication; but there’s something incredibly rewarding, not to mention personal, in witnessing a debut writer’s very own arc from the uncertainty of their first novel through to a finished work of art.

And make no mistake: Bloodsounder’s Arc is a work of art, a dark and masterful tapestry of tension and momentum wherein each word weaves a more deftly spun strand than the last. The final triptych, Chains of the Heretic, is Salyards’ pièce de résistance, falling naturally but devastatingly into its place as the boldest and most brutal piece of the saga.

I’d be hard-pressed to describe Chains of the Heretic as a ‘happy’ ending to the series, but it’s certainly a satisfying one. Which is fortunate, since Salyards has made it clear that while he may eventually return to the world of Bloodsounder he has no immediate intention of doing so. Rumour has it that he’s currently working on something radically different to the Arc: a fast-paced urban fantasy/SF novel set fifty years in the future and tentatively titled Grimoire Zero.

In the meantime, those who are desperate for more Bloodsounder will want to check out Salyards’ short story contributions to the anthologies Neverland’s Library (Ragnarok) and the forthcoming Evil is a Matter of Perspective (Grimdark Magazine). In fact, I urge you to do so.

[Check out the full original review over on Fantasy-Faction.com!]

Review: Jeff Salyards, ‘Veil of the Deserters’

You’ll be pleased to know that I’m not here to bore you with generalised, hyperbolic gushing about how much I’m loving the world of Jeff Salyards’ Bloodsounder’s Arc (I waffled on enough in my review of book one, ‘Scourge of the Betrayer’).

No, what I’m actually here to do is bore you with specific, hyperbolic gushing* about how much I’m bloody loving this series.

(*Disclaimer: fangirlish gushing is an inadvertent and unavoidable side effect of reading this author’s work.)
Veil of the Deserters’ picks right up where ‘Scourge’ left off, whirling us off our feet and right back into the story with even less fucking around than a typical episode of 24. Injuries that were inflicted in the first book are still causing problems (broken ribs don’t heal overnight, y’know) as Arki’s tale continues to unfold in ‘real time’ using the same focused PoV and slow-build structure that had such a Marmite effect on many readers of book one. Personally, I think it’s brilliant . . . but there’s no accounting for taste.

Luckily for those who disliked the first book’s narrow approach to worldbuilding, the story’s scope begins to widen dramatically in ‘Veil’; and the writing becomes delightfully evocative to match it. Salyards’ hypnotic prose conjures some truly striking settings and imagery, with vivid and poetic descriptions woven seamlessly into the narrative. The scene that made the biggest impression on me was especially memorable because of its spectacular backdrop; I highlighted certain passages as I was reading, and when I went back to check the notes I’d made I’d annotated these parts with just the words: “fucking gorgeous.”

But since our narrator is accompanying a close-knit group of soldiers on their long, dangerous trek home, it makes sense that a much larger amount of the book is devoted to portraying their interactions with one another. Lucky, then, that Salyards also writes dialogue like a boss. Conversations are witty but natural; there’s biting rejoinders and clever repartee and laugh-out-loud snark and sarcasm a-plenty, but it’s recurring rather than constant and never once does it feel forced.

Dialogue is a vital part of any novel, and more so in one that uses first person. Bloodsounder’s Arc filters our understanding of everything that goes on by showing it to us through the narrow window of Arki’s narrative, which means that the only way we (and Arki) learn about the characters is by observing their interactions. I simply can’t stress enough how skilfully this is accomplished here. Furthermore, each of the more prominent characters speak in ways that are subtly different. Speech tags are a rarity because they are simply not necessary: Mulldoos, Vendurro, Braylar and the rest each have their own voice, and it’s easy to distinguish between them even during group conversations.

When I reviewed ‘Scourge’ I praised Salyards’ skill in creating characters who feel like real people, and he continues to demonstrate that skill throughout ‘Veil’. Familiar faces become both less and more so as the layers obscuring their lives are gradually peeled away; flaws and virtues are laid bare in equal measure as Arki slowly comes to find his own place in the company.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Arki’s relationship with Braylar, which develops in new and organic – and sometimes surprising – ways. A partnership born of expedience and founded on mutual tolerance begins to grow into something almost approaching friendship, or at the very least grudging respect. One of the more obvious signs of this is that Braylar becomes less vitriolic towards Arki, to the point where his sarcastic mockery sounds almost more affectionate than hostile. In response Arki sheds some of his fearful passivity, and begins to speak and act with initiative and increasing temerity.

Some would argue that dialogue and internal voice dominate the book at the expense of its plot. I would disagree wholeheartedly. Part of this series’ charm is the way it takes its time, draws you in, makes you care without realising, until something happens (preparing an ambush by sunset, perhaps?) and the pages leading up to that moment become unbearably tense, and the blow-by-blow fight scenes even more so.

Combat in Salyards’ world is brutal, exhausting and inglorious. I’ve said before, he writes fight scenes so realistically that they’re almost painful to read. One-handed weapons don’t shear through armour like a hot knife through butter; instead they’re frequently used to bash and pummel a heavily-armoured opponent into submission, which is less gory but far, far more brutal. Arrows are deflected by helms, crossbow bolts do very little damage to those wearing decent armour, and whether or not you manage to shoot your enemy in the face at range is much more dependent on luck than skill.

Most importantly, whenever there is fighting to be had the reader is fully aware that every single character is in danger, regardless of whether or not they’re actively participating. The narrator’s intimate focus on small groups and individual soldiers gives a real sense of immediacy: Salyards basically situates us right there beside Arki, in front-row seats where we can hear the grunts and clashes, feel the blood spray, smell the sweat of the armoured and exhausted combatants as they instinctively struggle to be the last man standing.

It’s not only during combat that we’re immersed in the story right alongside Arki. The first-person perspective ensures that ‘Veil’ remains grounded in realism even during its most fantastical moments; this, for me, is the most defining characteristic of the series. Salyards anchors the reader firmly within his narrator’s world, and in doing so persuades us to share his incredulity, his naivety, his limited experience of what may or may not be possible. And so it is that, when the fantastical does happen, it seems all the more remarkable and real.

It’s so deftly done that we scarcely even notice this subtle process. Right from the start of book one it’s as though our imagination has been slowly lowering its anchor into this world until it finally hit the bottom and lodged there. But it’s not until the events of ‘Veil’, when the narrator’s very definition of the impossible is called into question, that we feel our anchor unexpectedly pulled by these strange tides, and finally realise we’re about as thoroughly embedded in Arki’s world as it’s possible to be.

A fun little offshoot of this is that the author uses his narrator’s ignorance to poke fun at oft-overlooked aspects the genre. For example: at one point Arki reflects on how much maintenance horses require. “I suppose I always imagined you simply rode until you were done riding and then got off,” he muses; and whether or not Salyards intended it this way, there’s no denying that a vast amount of fantasy authors appear to make the same assumption as Arki. I know, I know: the genre’s called ‘fantasy’, it’s not meant to be realistic, etc., etc. Still, the best fantasies are written in such a way that we actually believe in them, even just for a moment. A thoroughly immersive reading experience relies on little touches of credibility, which is why Bloodsounder’s Arc is already one of the most engaging and (dare I say) believable speculative fiction series I’ve encountered.

Even the magic feels real. Wielded only by women, Salyards’ magic is mind-based, clever and unconventional: you’ll find no fireballs or magic missiles here. It’s not flashy in the slightest – which perhaps makes it even more frightening – but it’s still deadly, and it takes its toll on the caster as well as the target. Magic played a relatively small role in ‘Scourge’, and was largely mentioned only in dark muttering and cryptic references. But here we finally get to meet the dread Memoridons, or ‘memory witches’, two of whom accompany our favourite Syldoon and add an intriguing new dynamic to the group.

In fact, one of the Memoridons – Braylar’s sister Soffjian – has already become one of my favourite characters, despite the fact that she doesn’t actually take up a lot of page time. Using the angry, fearful reactions of Braylar and his men, the author makes Soffjian’s presence felt even before the reader meets her, and when she does join the Syldoon her presence in the group affects everything the soldiers say and do. Salyards lets us see just enough of her strength and skill – in interactions both verbal and physical – that we’re left in no doubt about her badass credentials. Salyards also does a rare thing: he manages to write a strong female character – who for the most part is clever and cunning, hostile and aloof, and frankly a bit of a bitch – and make her not only someone we sympathise with but also who we admire.

Well. I do, anyway. In fact, Soffjian is my new hero.

That said . . . fetch me my ranseur, and be quick about it. ‘Ranseur’, yes. You know, the big pointy—eugh, forget the ranseur. Just bring me the next book. ‘Chains of the Heretic’, that’s the one. I’ve heard it’s the best of the bunch!

Well, of course I have high expectations of it, fool. What? ‘What if it doesn’t live up to them?’ Of course it will! And if not, then it’s like Braylar himself says: “even if it proves less than gripping or convincing, it is better than a dead horse.”


History, Family and Memory… these are the seeds of destruction.

Bloodsounder’s Arc continues as Captain Braylar Killcoin and his retinue continue to sow chaos amongst the political elite of Alespell. Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual.

The Syldoonian Emperor Cynead has solidified his power base in unprecedented ways, and demands loyalty from all operatives. Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be far more complicated and dangerous than even Killcoin could predict.

Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and his sister Soffjian lie at the heart of his plans. The distance between “favored shadow agent of the emperor” and “exiled traitor” is an unsurprisingly short road. But it is a road filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian. And old enemies in Alespell may prove to be surprising allies in a conflict no one could have foreseen. 

You can connect with Jeff via Facebook and Twitter, or  check out jeffsalyards.com for more (his blog on there is ridiculously entertaining).


Review: ‘Scourge of the Betrayer’ by Jeff Salyards

‘Scourge of the Betrayer’ is a book that’s been lurking amidst the dusty, long-forgotten recesses of my Amazon wishlist for over three years. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to finishing it I’m kicking myself for having waited so long.

It was social media that recently put the series back on my radar: after a few weeks of being regularly entertained by Salyards’ laugh-out-loud Facebook posts I decided it was high time I checked out his fiction.

Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I found myself immersed in a gritty, startlingly intimate fantasy; one that uses realism and detail to draw in the reader, and maintains the engaging and endearing first person voice of a rather inexperienced and anxious young man.

Our narrator is Arkamondos, an educated yet naïve small-town scribe. The main premise of ‘Scourge’ is that Arki has been hired to chronicle the day-to-day activities of a brutal warband. His new comrades hail from the shadowy Syldoon empire; led by Captain Braylar Killcoin, each man in the company comes across as hard-bitten and wholly at ease with violence and death.

What really sets Salyards’ writing apart is its charming and eloquent narrative voice, which captures perfectly the difficulties and doubts of an untested chronicler. Unlike other ‘grimdark’ protagonists, Arki is increasingly horrified by the violent deeds he comes to witness, and frequently questions his decision to join the Syldoon. We the reader get to experience his fear and shock – in complete contrast to the slurry of infallible, unshakeable antiheroes that the last few years have provided us with – and it’s refreshing to have a narrator that we can actually relate to.

Though Arki as a narrator is almost painfully naïve, he doesn’t shy away from observing and recording the brutal things he witnesses. He tries to do this as impassively and professionally as possible, but naturally his own morals and personality colour everything he writes. Arki is mostly left on the outside of the group, at least at first. This means that the reader is also left out, and we begin the story knowing next to nothing about what’s going on: just like Arki, the reader feels as though they’re stumbling around, completely out of their depth. And this is actually awesome – as long as you just sit back and accept the fact that everything will make sense eventually.

Above all, Arki’s lack of worldly experience makes every page feel realistic. Armour, weapons and warcraft are described simply yet effectively; there is an undertone of quiet competence that conveys the sense that the author has done his research but chosen not to show off about it by blinding his readers with pedantic jargon and details. Better yet, Salyards doesn’t assume that every single character possesses the same amazing skillset just because it’s fantasy: not everyone knows how to load a crossbow, ride a horse, pick a lock or even load a wagon. He avoids stereotypes, and by doing so he gives us characters that actually feel like real people.

The author deals with every other aspect of the story in a similar way. Sex is exciting yet ultimately disappointing; combat is prolonged and painful; death is graceless and unexpected. Arrows miss as often as not; ambushes are more likely to fail than succeed; bloodstains actually stick around for a long time; and every fight leaves the combatants with injuries both large and small that aren’t just shaken off and forgotten about. And though Salyards avoids the more ‘traditional’ elements of fantasy – specifically with regards to the somewhat obscure weapons used by certain characters – his combat scenes are never anything less than brutal, realistic and vivid.

For instance, one of the main characters’ chosen weapons is a flail. And not just any old flail, either: this is Bloodsounder, powerful but dangerous, which grants its wielder mysterious knowledge and an advantage over his opponents. Despite this, Bloodsounder is not a whirling tornado of wanton destruction when wielded, nor is its use dramatic or over the top in any way; in fact, the first time we see the flail in extensive action it’s used to gradually bludgeon a soldier to death in a tense, protracted one-on-one fight scene lasting several pages.

I’ve seen plenty of reviews complaining that ‘Scourge’ is light on the action, and that the bulk of the story focuses heavily on the mundane either through word-for-word dialogue, or internal monologue. I’ll admit I agree with this, but only to an extent, since I feel like this is also one of the book’s main strengths. Yes, the pace is slow. Yes, there are extended monologues that could perhaps have been shorter. And yes, some segments can feel slightly repetitive. But all this does is successfully convey a sense of routine, of the daily grind of men who spend every hour of their lives in one another’s company.

The plot progresses incrementally, but steadily. The fact that events are being chronicled in ‘real time’ makes for a relatively slow pace, yes, but it also gives ‘Scourge’ a pervading sense of immediacy and danger. And just because ALL THE THINGZ aren’t happening doesn’t mean that *nothing* is happening. ‘Scourge’ represents the beginning of a journey – and a surprisingly subtle journey at that – of discovery, both for the reader discovering the story and characters, and for Arki discovering that maybe he can cope with whatever the hell he’s gotten into after all.

And besides: the prose is smooth and engaging enough that it’s ridiculously easy to forget that not much is actually happening. Salyards writes with an easy tone and a poetic flourish; in fact, his style reminds me (in different ways) of both Mark Lawrence and Pat Rothfuss. But Salyards’ voice feels more *natural*, somehow; less choreographed wittiness and more self-deprecating observation. That’s not to say it doesn’t contain its share of dark humour and gritty dialogue, though. In fact, at one point I described it to a friend as, “a bit like if ‘Prince of Thorns’ had been narrated by Father Gomst with a sense of humour”.

One last thing I appreciated about ‘Scourge of the Betrayer’ is the fact that the author doesn’t fall into the trap of having Arki explain every tiny detail of a world with which he is already familiar. The setting is mostly vague, simply because it doesn’t need to be anything else but. Enough detail is conveyed for us to vividly picture the scenes taking place, yet not enough so that the world building takes over the story. Salyards takes a similar approach to history and lore: you get the sense that there’s a huge amount of it lurking just beyond reach, but he’s going to make us wait before we earn it.

I’m not saying ‘Scourge’ is perfect. It’s not. There’s nothing major to criticise, but it is kind of rough around the edges in a few minor ways. There are bits and pieces – arguably entire scenes – that could perhaps have been cut without detriment to the story; and as I already mentioned, the pacing can occasionally be an issue. But it’s a very, very good book nonetheless. And as a debut novel? It’s seriously impressive.

So yes, bend me over and call me a fangirl: I’m officially sold on Salyards. Now bring me more Bloodsounder. Now.

Dammit you horsec*nts, I said NOW.


Many tales are told of the Syldoon Empire and its fearsome soldiers, who are known throughout the world for their treachery and atrocities. Some say that the Syldoon eat virgins and babies–or perhaps their own mothers. Arkamondos, a bookish young scribe, suspects that the Syldoon’s dire reputation may have grown in the retelling, but he’s about to find out for himself.

Hired to chronicle the exploits of a band of rugged Syldoon warriors, Arki finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the men’s enigmatic leader, Captain Braylar Killcoin. A secretive, mercurial figure haunted by the memories of those he’s killed with his deadly flail, Braylar has already disposed of at least one impertinent scribe . . . and Arki might be next.


A gripping military fantasy in the tradition of Glen Cook, Scourge of the Betrayer explores the brutal politics of Empire–and the searing impact of violence and dark magic on a man’s soul.


You can connect with Jeff via Facebook and Twitter, or  check out jeffsalyards.com for more (his blog on there is ridiculously entertaining).